Interfaith Families Easter: Metaphor and Mystery

On Easter morning, I plan to walk out before dawn with my Catholic sister-in-law and little nephew, barefoot along the water’s edge, gradually collecting a community of strangers as we head to a sunrise service on the Florida beach. I hope to experience new energy rising out of death. This lifecycle metaphor, the spirituality inherit in spring, touches everyone. As a theological Jew and an interfaith child, I do not feel I need to steel myself against this mystery.

I am lucky to have Passover and Easter with my full interfaith clan on the beach this year. But a part of me mourns the fact that I will miss an amazing event back home: for the first time ever, our interfaith families community will hold an Easter service on the morning of Easter itself. In past years, we have had educational Easter gatherings before or after the day, encouraging our families to attend churches on Easter.

This year, the Interfaith Families Project service on Easter will be a Christian service, designed to fulfill as many of our Christian members as possible (while recognizing that our members come from very diverse and even divergent Christian traditions and you cannot please them all). It will not be an amalgam of Christianity and Judaism, or “watered down,” but will include familiar hymns, the story of Holy Week, and encouragement to dress in Easter finery. So if what we offer is a more-or-less traditional service, why do families want to celebrate Easter with other interfaith families? The main reason is that our community is strong, and many of our families want to be together, not among strangers, on Easter. But also, the service is being designed with Jewish partners and interfaith children in mind. That means, most importantly, that you are guaranteed not to hear language that implies that the Jews were responsible for the death of Jesus. This language, sadly, persists in many churches during Holy Week. We discovered that for many of our families, the Interfaith Families Project is the only place they feel they can safely attend a service that can be fraught with theological tension and echoes of antisemitism.

Our Easter service will also feature a unique attraction for all interfaith family members: a reflection on Jesus by our rabbi, Rabbi Harold White, who has spent over 40 years at Georgetown University. While there, he developed a profound appreciation for Jesuit teachings, and an unusual degree of comfort with speaking out about Jesus as a Rabbi, and a Jew. And no, we are not “Jews for Jesus.” Our community does not evangelize and we do not teach our children that Jesus was their personal savior. We educate them about the different Jewish and Christian beliefs, without requiring adherence to any dogma. But we do encourage them to think about metaphor, and mystery. And Easter blooms with both.

After the service, we are offering another wildly unprecedented event: a pancake breakfast (traditional in many churches on Easter) with the option for matzoh brei (matzahs fried in scrambled eggs) for those who are abstaining from leavened bread during the week of Passover. Inspired creative thinking? A messy debacle? Intrepid interfaith families intend to find out…

Susan Katz Miller’s book, Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family is available now in hardcover, paperback and eBook from Beacon Press.

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3 Replies to “Interfaith Families Easter: Metaphor and Mystery”

  1. I would appreciate it if you would stop perpetuating the myth that Catholic Priests (or any Christian) that “the Jews” killed Jesus. As a Catholic I (we) clearly state that Pontius Pilate was guilty of this task. That said the Jewish religious authorities of the time were afraid of Jesus and wanted him to be “dealt with”, His miracles (having recently raised Lazarus from the dead), his message (“blessed are the poor” heresy), and his growing following were a threat to social structure that they relied on for their power.
    The good news is that we can all cheer for the good guy Jesus (a Jew) verse the bad guys, the Sanhedrin, (also Jews). Christians no longer blame the Jews for the death of Jesus – and Jews have to accept that some of their ancestors play the heavies in this story.

    1. I understand and share your perspective that both “good guys” and “bad guys” in this context were Jewish, and I appreciate the extent to which the Catholic church has made great efforts to make clear the role of Pilate and the Jewish context of the narrative. Unfortunately, not every minister and priest in every Christian church is equally sensitive to the nuances of translation and the historical traumas associated with this scripture for Jews, and not all Christians have heard or understood the subtle shifts in tone. But also, I believe Jewish partners in interfaith marriages need to become more educated about the Jesus narrative, so that they will ‘hear” and understand the (Jewish) context.

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